Jihene Abdedaim is one of the thousands living in Red Deer whose first language is not English.
Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released its 2016 federal census information on languages and the numbers show Red Deer’s population of people who don’t have English or French as their first language is growing.
According to the census, 14,840 people’s mother tongue is not English or French, Canada’s two official languages.
Abdedaim, 42, is originally from Algeria, where Algerian, a dialect of French, became her first language.
“Algerian is like a combination of Berber, Turkish, Spanish and French,” said Abdedaim.
With political instability in Algeria, Abdedaim and her husband moved to the Middle East in 2003 and after spending seven years there, they immigrated to Canada as skilled workers in 2010.
“When I left Algeria I wasn’t that good in English, but I’ve been using English over the years. In the Middle East it’s basically the language most commonly used,” she said.
Since being in Canada, first living in Ottawa and Grande Prairie before coming to Red Deer, she has seen her English improve, she said.
In Red Deer, 84,378 of 99,832 people (85.2 per cent) have English as their mother tongue. The percentage is lower than the 2011 census, as 79,039 of 89,715 (88.1 per cent) of the population had English as their first language that year.
Not including English or French, the top spoken languages in Red Deer are Tagalog (a Filipino dialect), Spanish, Arabic, Ukrainian and Cantonese. In 2011, the top five were Tagalog, Spanish, German, Dutch and Chinese.
The rise in Arabic-speakers is due in part to an influx of Syrian refugees coming to Red Deer, said Red Deer human resource specialist for diversity and inclusion Tymmarah Sheculski.
With an expected 49,000-person labour shortage in Alberta by 2025, it’s important to get people into interested in moving here, Sheculski added.
“We need to be attracting people to be living in our municipalities in our province and in our country to help cover that labour shortage,” said Sheculski.
In order to accommodate for people who don’t speak English, the city will launch an “internal interpreters program,” where city staff will be a part of a resource list to help with translations if needed.
“Say somebody comes in to pay their tax bill and there’s a language barrier. With this program we’d have a list staff could go to that might be able to help,” she said.
So far the program has 28 different staff members who are able to speak 23 different languages.